Sarasota's Unconventional New Gallery Spaces Are Showing Fresh Work by Local Artists
Art, like love, will always find a way. And visual artists in Sarasota are always finding new ways to display and sell their work, sometimes in locations you might not know about.
For years, most art for sale here was found in commercial art galleries downtown, on St. Armands Circle or in other spots where owners could count on foot traffic.
Those places still exist, as well as longtime art colonies, like Towles Court in Sarasota
and Village of the Arts in Bradenton.
But there are always more artists eager to create—and make a living—than those venues can handle. So artists are branching out to promote themselves and others in areas where rents are lower, and where they can change the shows on display more often, to benefit all.
Case in point: SPAACES, an acronym that stands for Sarasota Project Aligning Artists Communities Exhibits and Studios. It’s located on Princeton Street, off U.S. 301 and just east of downtown Sarasota. In 2017, Marianne Chapel Junker opened a personal studio in the space, but quickly realized she could share it with other working artists. The project was first known as M. Chapel Projects, but Chapel Junker changed the name to SPAACES in 2018 and worked with a nonprofit tech company to learn about nonprofits and how to set up her own foundation.
“We got nonprofit status in the summer of 2020,” says Chapel Junker, “and, because our space has these wide garage doors and a parking lot, we were able to open up even during Covid, with a bar and live music."
There are 10 artist studios and gallery spaces on the property, with approximately 6,000 square feet in total. “We’re a little bit different from other galleries, where the work is hung like art stores,” she says. “That’s great, but we show one artist at a time, to allow for some ‘resting space.’” SPAACES presents about 10 shows a season, once a month or so, featuring all kinds of work by artists from around Florida.
Even newer to the arts scene is Creative Liberties, nestled in the Limelight District on Apricot Avenue. But the forces behind it, Barbara Gerdeman and Elizabeth Goodwill, are not new. They met and worked together for years at Art Center Sarasota before deciding to form their own business.
Incorporated in May 2021, Creative Liberties started with services for artists—helping them inventory their work and offering advice on how to get accepted into shows. But an opportunity to rent the space on Apricot, with room for nine working artists and studios, plus wall space that can be rented to other artists on a rotating basis, was too good to pass up.
“We came up with everything on the fly,” says Gerdeman. Now, with nearly a year under their belts, “we can look at it and evaluate as we plan 2022-2023,” she says. “Our big goal is inclusivity. We have so many artists in this community, and some have never displayed their work before. We like to give opportunities to as many as we can, and that keeps it fresh.” For viewers and buyers, too. You can expect to see everything from fiber art to collage to portraits and mosaics at Creative Liberties.
Slightly more traditional in approach but still offering opportunities for emerging artists is MARA Art Studio + Gallery in the Rosemary District. Artist Mara Torres Gonzalez at first planned a coffee and flower shop with an art space there, but with Covid on the rise in 2020, the focus changed to just visual art.
“I didn’t want it to be just my artwork,” she says. “My plan is to keep rotating shows during the season, eight to 10 each year. And during the off season, I rotate work by all the artists I represent.” Those range from Ringling College of Art and Design students to professional artists working in photography, wood, sculpture and more.
Some spaces may schedule fewer events during the steamy summer months, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still open for business. If you’d like to explore artists’ studios, consider the Sarasota Studio Artists Association, with 40-plus artists teaming up to open their studios to the public on the second Saturday of each month. The studios are located all around town. For an interactive map and a schedule, head to srqartists.com.